A multi-institutional open access publishing and pedagogical tool, whose leadership includes Adrian S. Wisnicki of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, has received one of the largest grants this round from the National Endowment for the Humanities.Collaborative Organization for Virtual Education, or COVE, received $350,000 from NEH, which was announced April 13. Wisnicki, associate professor of English, is one of the grant’s two co-principal investigators.
COVE, a nonprofit open access endeavor, publishes peer-reviewed scholarly editions and hosts a “flipped classroom” environment, where students build projects with COVE’s online tools. The project began in 2014 when the North American Victorian Studies Association voted to launch the project, with texts becoming available to outside users in 2018.
“It’s a platform that is meant to serve as a low-cost, scholar-led alternative to commercial publishing platforms,” Wisnicki, who serves as COVE’s associate editor, said. “Since it is nonprofit, all the funds generated are invested back into the project and significant components of the project expenditures, in turn, are invested in students.
Dino Felluga, the other co-principal investigator on the grant, general editor of COVE and professor of English at Purdue University, explained how COVE’s teaching tools are directly benefitting students.
“All teachers need texts to teach,” Felluga said. “Current print anthologies are expensive, static and offer no scope for customization. Most COVE users therefore use COVE Studio, where they can create custom anthologies of material. Links to individual texts or to the whole anthology can be easily added to a learning management system like Canvas. Teachers can create groups of users who can then see each other’s annotations of the text, including multimedia annotation (image, audio, video), with privacy of the students protected.”
The site launched initially as the Central Online Victorian Educator with texts in the Victorian period. In 2020, the COVE team expanded the content and rebranded as the Collaborative Organization for Virtual Education. With the rebranding, the database grew quickly from 2 million words of text to 11.5 million words of content, the equivalent of a 46-volume encyclopedia. Available texts go from the Renaissance until the early 20th century, or the cutoff for when texts are out of copyright.
“Once scholars have selected a text or texts, they work in an online project space with other scholars or with students to annotate the texts, to engage the texts in different kinds of ways and to open up the content by adding timelines, maps, and image galleries,” Wisnicki said.
Wisnicki said any annotations or projects related to a piece of text that are done by students and scholars are available on COVE for further use, in an “open assembly” model.
“For example, I created a timeline and put various annotated points on it,” Wisnicki said. “Any subsequent person who wants to create their own timeline will have all my timeline elements available to them and can reuse those in their platform. The platform thus promotes a new form of scholarly collaboration and dialogue in a way that’s not possible with other platforms.”
With the funding from NEH, Wisnicki said the COVE team plans to achieve three objectives. The first is to take all of the underlying COVE data, extract it and prepare it with full metadata so that it can be reused in other forms of projects, further promoting scholarship and reuse. In this work, the team will collaborate with Nebraska’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, where Wisnicki also serves as a faculty fellow.
Second, the COVE platform will be rebuilt, with optimization for mobile devices and accessibility, so that it is available on any device for all users, including those with visual and other impairments. For Wisnicki, this is a particular priority in all of his digital humanities projects because of how it democratizes access to the projects both in terms of who can use the projects and the different kinds of environments in which the projects become available.
The third objective is to add more texts to the database, up to two million words, with an eye on diversity.
“We’re planning to add a variety of texts that are drawn from the 19th century and before,” Wisnicki said. “We’re also focusing on diversifying the voices in it. Another one of my digital humanities projects, One More Voice, focuses on recovering the work of a multicultural, globally distributed array of creators from British Imperial and colonial archives, and we’re providing support to COVE to help decide which texts might be added, so there’s a fair amount of such texts that will be added to the platform through the grant.”